Yitzhak Yedid is doing pretty well for himself. At 34, he has six CDs to his name and makes regular appearances at music festivals across the globe. Another prestigious feather will be added to his cap this week as Yedid takes his place as the recipient of this year's Prime Minister's Award for Classical Composer of the Year. He'll receive the award from Culture and Sport Minister Ofir Paz-Pines in a ceremony Tuesday at the Tel Aviv Museum, where he'll be joined by honorees in several other musical categories.
Yedid says he is both flattered and somewhat surprised by the award. "I didn't really come through the ranks of the classical community here," he says. "And I straddle different areas of music. [My work is] not purely classical, but it is a great compliment to receive recognition from some of the country's most respected classical composers."
One can understand Yedid's surprise. It's not that he doesn't merit the award - he's a highly gifted composer and pianist, and a fine ambassador for the country in his overseas appearances. But his recordings to date lie in the gray margins of the classical domain, with a definite tendency towards the more improvisational areas of the discipline. "I am very happy about getting the award in the classical category," he says, "although I relate to it more as recognition of my work in general, without getting into the business of [genre]. It's a very great honor."
Though the awards keep coming in, Yedid is not resting on his laurels. His latest composition, Reflection Upon Six Images, has just been released on German label Between the Lines, and he is putting the finishing touches on a new work, this time commissioned for other artists. "It is strange to be writing for someone else," he says, "but I have enjoyed the challenge."
While much of Yedid's work veers towards more commercial areas of music, he also enjoys a highly successful synergy with Ethiopian-born jazz-blues musician Abate. The union, named Ras Deshen, produced a self-titled CD in 2002, a work which incorporates blues that emanate straight from Africa rather than the American South, as well as traditional and Jewish Ethiopian music, with plenty of room left for improvisational work. The pair recently performed at New York City's Lincoln Center.
Despite his music's European and African connections, Yedid sees himself as a product of this part of the world. He is of Syrian and Iraqi descent and, more than anything, considers himself a quintessential Jerusalemite. "This is where I belong," he says. "This is my natural milieu. I need to be here to create."
It's a sentiment borne out by his decision to return to Israel in 1998 after completing just the first year of a two-year course at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston under the tutelage of renowned jazz pianists Ran Blake and Paul Bley. At the time, the move looked something like professional suicide, particularly given his growing presence on the local jazz circuit and joint recordings he had completed with Bley. "There were a couple of other Israelis on the course, and they were amazed at my decision," Yedid recalls. "They thought I was crazy and tried to talk me out of it. But I knew I had to be in Jerusalem, even if it meant limiting my professional options."
Ever since, Yedid has fed off his hometown's diverse cultural mix, incorporating a number of classical, ethnic and religious motifs in his works. "I see myself as a composer who grew out of the things we have here, all things. I know it is not accepted practice, in classical music, to write a 30-second section of free improvisation in the middle of a composition, or to instruct one musician to stick to a particular scale while others go off on a tangent. But that is the way I am, and the way I work."
With his latest prestigious award, a burgeoning body of work and more shows lined up overseas, Yedid's decision to return home from Boston doesn't, in retrospect, seem like too imprudent an idea after all.